Did you know that federal grants support school districts through the use of alternative fuel buses? Very soon, the Environmental Protection Agency will open funding for its Clean School Bus Program as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This program will replace diesel school buses with low-carbon alternatives, like propane autogas.
Because propane buses are one-third the cost of electric buses, more diesel buses can be replaced with a cleaner option that helps meet our carbon reduction goals faster.
Propane school buses have recently been adopted in Michigan and Massachusetts, Maryland and Missouri, South Dakota and South Carolina. In every part of the country, communities are realizing that propane is their best option for school buses.
A Clean Fuel
Propane is a clean alternative fuel, considered so by the federal government and an act of Congress since 1992. Propane reduces petroleum use by 99% when it is derived as a byproduct of natural gas, and natural gas is one of our most abundant and easily accessible natural resources.
Unlike diesel-powered units, propane buses do not require costly diesel after-treatment systems or fluids to break down dangerous NOx emissions.
Safety, Maintenance and Operating Advantages
Propane tanks are exceedingly safe, and on buses, the fuel system is equipped with automatic shut off features. Unlike batteries in newer battery vehicles, propane school buses have been operating safely for decades.
According to the Department of Energy, “the potential for lower maintenance costs is one reason behind propane’s popularity for use in… school buses.” Propane engines last longer because of the low carbon and low oil characteristics.
Also, propane school buses are particularly ideal for colder climates in the northern part of the country because propane engines don’t suffer from the cold start issues common with diesel. Blue Bird, one of the top bus manufacturers, states that its propane buses start and can operate at -40° Fahrenheit –– important on a frigid winter morning. Furthermore, with propane, there is no concern about battery depletion caused by heating passengers in the long cabin.
Fueling the Fleet
Fleets need to refuel many vehicles at the same time every day. Installing propane infrastructure at a school bus yard, where buses can be refilled quickly, is an ideal solution. The Department of Energy estimates that school buses travel an average of 60 miles per day. Sixty miles drains half the battery of an electric school bus, according to Blue Bird’s data, and once depleted, getting them back into service isn’t fast. Battery school buses require a minimum of three hours to charge.
Propane is also cost-effective, which every school district values so that they can invest their assets in teachers, books, and computers. Districts can pre-purchase propane at optimal rates as opposed to paying fluctuating electric charges. Propane can cost half the price per gallon as diesel fuel, which is why Blue Bird says propane buses save school districts an average of $0.37 per mile, or $3,500 per year per bus, compared to diesel options.
The path to a lower carbon future doesn’t have to be filled with doubts and concerns about what the best possible solutions are for today’s needs. When the subject is school buses, districts can stop worrying and start making a positive contribution to that low carbon future by investing in low carbon, lower cost, and better performing propane-powered school buses.